Sheikh Hassan Bin Jabor Al-Thani and British throttleman Steve Curtis MBE will be hoping to continue their winning start to the 2010 OPA Offshore Racing Series when they tackle the second round at Sunny Isles Beach in Florida this weekend.
The Qatar crew clinched an emphatic victory in Maryland less than two weeks ago in their Skema V12-engined Spirit of Qatar 96, but Sheikh Hassan knows that it will be equally as difficult to repeat the feat and extend their lead in the prestigious American offshore racing series, which is presented by GEICO.
Qatar’s Ali Al-Neama and Italian throttleman Matteo Nicolini finished fourth overall at the first meeting at Ocean City, as Al-Neama continues his rapid learning curve after replacing Abdullah Al-Sulaiti in Spirit of Qatar 95.
“I have been delighted with Ali’s progress,” said Sheikh Hassan. “He should not be pushed to the limit. It is not safe at this point in time. We want Ali to get as much seating time as possible in the boat, get familiar with how Matteo works the boat and get used to communicating well with Matteo.”
Talk-N-Trash, throttled by Vinny Rifice, and the JD Byrider Team crew of Tony Marcantonio and Mark Kowalski were the main competition for the Qatar Team in Maryland and Sheikh Hassan is expected a ferocious repeat tussle in Florida on Sunday.
“Talk-N-Trash was a big surprise in the first race,” admitted the Qatar team manager and president of the Qatar Marine Sports Federation (QMSF). “All along I thought JD Byrider would be the boat to watch out for, but I was surprised with the acceleration that Talk-N-Trash had, even in rough conditions. It was not easy to overtake him, as our boats were heavy with fuel. We thought that should have been an advantage for us. But it was not.
“We managed to keep pace for some time. I tried different lines but it did not work as it was rough on the water. Towards the last few laps, our boat was lighter on fuel and we managed to get that extra mile an hour, which made all the difference. We overtook him from the inside and used the lapped boats to our advantage.”
This season the Spirit of Qatar Team boats have undergone revisions to bring them in line with the American Supercat regulations and to hand everyone a level playing field. Both 95 and 96 have been fitted with air restrictors and Sheikh Hassan was pleased with the performance in Maryland.
“I think in the rough conditions, the new air restrictor worked well. But I don’t think it will be as good in flat seas, as the smaller boats have the advantage of better acceleration. It will be hard to keep up with them, but at least we now have ‘parity’ with the smaller boats. I do feel that the rules are clear and we just have to work with what we have to keep our position in the points’ standings for the season.”
The Spirit of Qatar Team is yet to see how it fairs on a tight course where fast turns are paramount to keep the advantage. “The big cats with the single rudder configuration can turn quickly on fast and tight courses. I do believe that we can manage this. We will need to plan accordingly and set our race strategies. We will play safe and fair to reach our target.”
The second race takes place on Sunday afternoon at Sunny Isles Beach, although the Spirit of Qatar Team and their Supercat rivals will be able to test on Saturday afternoon after pre-race formalities are completed on Friday and Saturday morning.
Sunny Isles Beach is a city located on a barrier island in northeast Miami-Dade County. The race will take place on a demanding Atlantic Ocean course, although the city is bounded to the other side by an intra-coastal waterway. Often referred to as Little Moscow, because of its many Russian residents, Sunny Isles Beach is also a popular tourist resort area and a large crowd is expected to watch the race action on Sunday.
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